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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 October 2005, 12:54 GMT 13:54 UK
Taiwan caning sparks heated debate
By Caroline Gluck
BBC, Taipei

A young female teacher in Taiwan repeatedly hits a male student, his hands outstretched, with a wooden stick.

He turns around, and the teacher hits him again on his backside.

A pupil being caned by his teacher in Taiwan
Footage of a pupil being caned was captured on video phone

His "crime" was failing to hand in his homework, 10 days after the deadline.

The video footage, recorded by a pupil on a mobile phone inside the classroom, has aired on Taiwanese television and is fuelling an increasingly heated debate about plans to introduce an amendment to the island's basic education law - to outlaw the use of corporal punishment in schools.

The move has recently received the high-profile backing of President Chen Shui-bian and Prime Minister Frank Hsieh. And it is likely to be passed by Taiwan's parliament, as it has wide cross-party support.

More than 65% of students said they had received some kind of corporal punishment at school

"Corporal punishment has been a cultural practice in Taiwan. But we believe schools and homes are the most important environment for kids to grow up and we need to eliminate this practice," said Guan Bi-ling, a legislator from the governing Democratic Progressive Party, who has introduced the amendment.

"Many countries worldwide have banned corporal punishment in schools by law - including China. We think Taiwan is an advanced country, and we shouldn't trail behind", she said.

But reactions to this recent case have been mixed.

"Some people say we should have considered the position of the teacher," said Kim Wang, of the Humanistic Education Foundation, a non-governmental group which is pushing for a ban of corporal punishment in schools.

"Other parents said they favoured teachers using that kind of method to discipline their children."

The teacher involved in the latest case - at a junior high school in Taichung, central Taiwan - has not faced any disciplinary action, said Xu Yu-shu, deputy director at Taichung City's education bureau.

But he said the case would be discussed by a review committee.

"We really feel bad when we see the pictures," he said. "We are determined to ban corporal punishment, and we will do it.

"But I think we are talking about individual cases. Most teachers are hard working and don't use corporal punishment," he said.


But an island-wide survey carried out this year by the Humanistic Education Foundation suggests such cases are not isolated incidents.

We teach our child to love people, to be a considerate person. But we do things to let them believe that you can hit everyone you like if that person doesn't obey your command
Ying Shih, Humanistic Education Foundation

In the poll, in which more than 3,000 junior and primary school children were questioned, more than 65% of students said they had received some kind of corporal punishment at school.

The group defined corporal punishment as "the infliction of physical pain... to cause mental suffering, as a means of punishment".

The results, though, did show a slight drop in reported cases compared with the year before, when more than 72% of students said they had experienced some form of corporal punishment.

That is despite government regulations which theoretically ban the use of corporal punishment. The fact that these regulations are so widely ignored shows why a ban needs to be made law, its supporters say.

"The teacher would sometimes use a wooden stick and rap us on the hands if we didn't get good grades," said one 15-year-old Taipei County schoolgirl, who did not want to give her name.

"But we couldn't complain, because we were afraid of the teacher."

Another 14-year-old girl from Taipei had a similar experience.

"The teacher made us perform physical exercises if we handed in homework late, if we were late to class or didn't get good grades. When I told my parents, they simply said - 'its your fault' and I should accept the punishment.

"Having a law banning corporal punishment is a good idea... but there are regulations against it now - even so, the teachers still punish us!" she said.

But Ying Shih, executive director of the Humanistic Education Foundation, believes a legal ban will help.

"A formal law can influence people's behaviour; and we think this can be done within the next few months. Our organisation was established to accomplish educational reform. But we believe corporal punishment is a very large obstruction right in the middle of the road towards educational reform.

"We teach our child to love people, to be a considerate person. But we do things to let them believe that you can hit everyone you like if that person doesn't obey your command. That's a very big contradiction; and that will destroy everything we teach our children," he said.

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